Friday, September 5, 2008

The Promise of Circular Migration

We've blogged several times (see posts here, here, here, and here) about the serious risks faced by undocumented migrants who cross land and sea borders to seek a better life. According to a report released by the Migration Policy Institute this month, several countries, most notably Canada and Spain, are testing out circular migration policies that offer the promise of eliminating these dangerous journeys. The underlying concept -- that migrants may prefer to move back and forth between their home countries and host countries in which they can earn money and gain skills -- resonates with the wishes expressed to me by many of the immigrants I've represented. It also, of course, raises a host of concerns about separating families, exploiting immigrant labor, and overburdening administrative bodies. Authors Kathleen Newland, Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias, and Aaron Terrazas catalogue the policies currently in place in various countries, noting that "[c]ircularity produces the most positive outcomes when migrants move voluntarily between countries to pursue various interests." In the best of all possible worlds, workers can avail themselves of work and investment opportunities both at home and abroad, and can contribute to the develpment of both nations.
There's much to chew on in this report, but I focus here on the migrant worker programs in Canada and Spain. The Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program offers workers repeat employment with the same farmer if they and their employers comply with the program's terms, which include labor protections (pay rates, shelter and food, health care) monitored by the immigrants' home countries and the obligation to present a sealed employer's evaluation to the home government upon return. These immigrants in turn have invested in land and businesses in their home countries. The Spanish Contingente de Trabajadores Extranjeros uses both carrots and sticks to encourage circular migration. It requires migrants to register with the Spanish consulate in their home country to ensure return, and those who do return are able to participate in the program without undergoing the selection process. After four years of successful participation, the migrant obtains easier access to permanent work authorization, and can then choose circularity. This program also helps seasonal migrants to set up small businesses, agricultural enterprises, or civil society organizations when they return to their home countries. There are certainly some alarming aspects of the programs -- in 2007, Spain selected only married women with children for a program allowing foreigners to work in fruit industries, and prohibited these mothers from bringing their children with them, presumably to ensure return. However, as the authors suggest, "ensuring labor circularity does not have to come at the expense of migrants' rights", and this report offers several thoughtful suggestions to ensure that both economic and humanitarian needs are met. Well worth a read!

1 comment:

Vikas said...
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